Last summer, I had the chance to visit Marrakech, Morocco. Because of my responsibilities as a student, I could only visit in June. While I was excited to explore this land filled with adventures, I was also concerned.
Why worry, you ask? Other than the extreme heat that summer in the Sahara would entail, June 2016 also marked Ramadan.
For those who are not familiar with it, Ramadan is a month where the Muslim community fasts from sunrise to sunset. This means no food and no drink at all, excepting children, pregnant women, the sick, the elderly, and those who are traveling. It is a month to seek and give forgiveness, to distance oneself from worldly pleasures and a time to celebrate with loved ones. After sunset, the first meal of the day is called iftar.
Ramadan back home in Indonesia means public places are closed, people stay in and streets are empty. I found myself asking, “If I go, will I travel all the way to Morocco just to marvel over the inside of my hotel room?”
I decided to go anyway. It is, after all, a popular tourist destination and my Moroccan friends encouraged me to see it for myself. I couldn’t help doubting their words, but decided to trust them anyway. I’m glad I did, because it was one magical experience. Sure, some things changed because of the holiday but the challenge only made the experience more rewarding.
Shops, museums, and restaurants were open, but the hours changed. I embarked on an adventure with the receptionist in my hotel to find out what the new hours were. We called the Majorelle Garden – good, they were open. Next destination, Ksar Ait-Ben-Haddou in Ouarzazate, near the Sahara – tours were still accepting visitors. Bahia Palace was only open for four hours during the day, but right outside was a maze of souks that took hours to explore…after a harsh denial to enter the palace, a taxi driver was kind enough to show me some of his favorite places at no extra cost.
At night, the city came alive and became a dream world of songs, food, laughter and lights flickering off stars and lamps like fireflies. Festivities erupted at the Jemaa El-Fnaa main square well into the morning. The experience was different every day. It was addictive. I returned every night to the square and hoped with all my heart that I could bottle up the memory and keep it forever in the back of my mind, to be reviewed on quiet nights and lazy early mornings.
It was at this time that I got to witness firsthand how the human mind triumphs time and time again over the constraints of the body. It was at this time that I found how capable of kindness we are, if we only try.
Daylight in Marrakech at this time was fifteen hours but not one person complained. The driver on our Sahara tour drove up to eight hours per day in the scorching heat of the desert. When we asked how he could survive without water and food for so long, he simply shrugged and said that he was used to fasting. After all, he had to work, he said, to support his wife and three children in the city.
Shop owners would offer me drinks as a symbol of their hospitality. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t drink with me. A man who tended a spices shop insisted that I try out his mother’s tea, which he claimed was the best in all of Marrakech (she added some secret spices with the mint). It was a little watery and by no means extraordinary but his fervor to be kind warmed my heart.
One night at the Jemaa El-Fnaa main square, a man started shouting at a little boy. I thought he was angry because the boy was staring at the food on his cart. Imagine my surprise when instead of retreating, the boy ran to the man. All turned out well; it turned out the man just wanted to give the boy a piece of bread.
I looked back at the worries that plagued me at the end of my trip. After experiencing Ramadan in Marrakech, such thoughts became inconceivable.
If you find yourself asking, “Should I go?” – I say, go.